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Hidden beneath Holloway Circus lies a forgotten cinema, lost to time. Cold, water damaged and stripped of most of its former interiors, the venue is now a concrete shell tucked underneath Scala House, a sad reminder of the many lost cinemas of Birmingham.

On the day the Odeon Queensway closed its doors, on 18th September 1988, it screened Return of the Jedi, Ghostbusters and Aliens back to back.

Following its closure, much of the equipment was moved across to Odeon New Street. The cavernous void beneath Scala House has remained vacant ever since.

The cinema's roots date back to 1914 with the construction of the Scala Theatre on what was then Smallbrook Street.

Its elaborate glazed terracotta façade would have reflected the glamour and exuberance associated with cinema-going at the time. In May 1958, the building was sold and demolished to make way for Herbert Manzoni's much maligned inner ring road of the 1960s.

Scala House, taking its name from the earlier cinema on the same site, was designed by James A. Roberts, the same architect who designed the Rotunda, and was completed in 1964.

The Birmingham Scala Superama Cinema opened in November of the same year. At the time it was built, many considered it to be the best cinema in Birmingham, with plush, modern surroundings and state of the art sound and video projection.

It was initially owned by Compton Films Ltd who distributed adult material through the chain of cinemas they owned. However, as the decade progressed the Rank Organisation, who owned the Odeon chain, took over the theatre in February 1970 and re-branded it the Odeon Ringway and again two years later, the Odeon Queensway.

The exterior above street level still bears the scars of the former entrance canopy and signage.

Beyond the boarded up entrance, the stairs and foyer complete with their 70s carpet, lead down to the main screen, around 12m below pavement level. Two smaller screens were upstairs but have since been converted to alternative uses.

Propped against the wall at the back of the auditorium, stands an incomplete collection of the original Odeon lettering from outside.

Although the seating has been removed, the curved tiers still focus on a stage where the screen would have been and the walls are still lined with yellow, stained curtains, on which you can almost smell the cigarette smoke.

Within the projection suite are a few rusting pieces of sound and lighting equipment. In the projectionist's booth, which doubled as a cutting room, a cutting bench and equipment still remain, with a rack of trays which would have contained titles, to be cut into the film reels saying 'welcome' and 'goodbye'.

When in use, the cinema would have been equipped for showing 35mm and 70mm reels.

Over the years many people have suggested different uses for the space, with one venture to turn it into a nightclub nearly coming into fruition.

An application to turn it into a pod-style hotel in 2011 seemed promising but was later withdrawn.

As of yet no further plans have been solidified for the vast underground auditorium and it looks set to remain vacant until creative plans can be conjured up to reclaim this forgotten space.

Article by Matthew Goer, Director, Associated Architects
Published in the Birmingham Post, 18 December 2014

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